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Bravo-Ureta Lands USAID Grant
to Help Farmers in El Salvador
February 28, 2000

Small-scale farmers in El Salvador stand to increase their earnings and become more integrated with the global economy under a project that will create farm management centers in this Central American nation. The centers are based on a model developed by agricultural economists at UConn.

"Our ultimate goal is to increase the income of small farmers by helping them to diversify into higher value crops and to find markets for their products at fair prices," says Boris Bravo-Ureta, a professor of agricultural and resource economics and principal investigator on the project.

"The benefits that arise from training farmers who are raising basic crops such as corn, beans and rice to grow different, more valuable products such as papaya, sesame, peanuts and organic vegetables for export to foreign markets can be significant," adds Bravo-Ureta, who also is executive director of UConn's Office of International Affairs.

The ROCA (Rural Organizations and Environmental Conservation Activity) project, is being implemented by a partnership between UConn and TechnoServe, an international consulting firm based in Norwalk, whose goal is to help create sustained economic development around the world.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has recently awarded a total of $682,000 to UConn to proceed with ROCA. This project has a five-year timetable and will involve the Office of International Affairs, the Institute of Public Service International, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Environmental Research Institute.

Bravo-Ureta, whose research into the economics of production in peasant agriculture has taken him to El Salvador and Guatemala already twice this year, seeks opportunities wherever he can to connect peasant enterprises in Central America to global markets.

El Salvador has experienced robust economic growth during the last several years, yet the benefits of this growth have been concentrated in urban areas and have not reached the countryside, he says. At the same time, small farmers living in poverty do not enjoy access to the many services needed for viable agricultural production.

To address that need, Bravo-Ureta has developed a model to set up farm management centers in rural areas to increase the competitivene ss of small farmers by easing their entry into the market economy. The centers supply technical and economic information and management know-how to producers. They also provide market information and services designed to lower transaction costs and help farmers gain access to new business opportunities. By integrating these services into one unit, the centers link all the phases of the farm-to-market chain.

"Helping El Salvador's farmers improve their production by teaching them business management concepts, better planting techniques, appropriate handling, storage and processing of crops after harvest would spur economic growth in the rural areas of the country where two-thirds of the poor reside," Bravo-Ureta explains.

The ROCA project plans to establish five farm management centers as components of existing farm cooperatives in rural areas already selected by USAID as priority municipalities. "Our intention," says Bravo-Ureta, " is to strengthen these existing cooperatives so that they can provide a wide range of farm-to-market services to the poorest of the rural population."

UConn's contributions to the ROCA project will include the design of computerized information systems, training of center managers on how to use these systems, and analyzing costs and returns of various crops to create business plans for individual farms. UConn also is responsible for developing written materials to be used in training sessions and for conducting applied research in the economics of agricultural production.

In addition, the Environmental Research Institute will examine the impact that changes in farming practices might have on water and soil quality. Researchers will sample and analyze water, soil and sediment samples collected around Salvadoran farms, in order to effectively quantify the pollutants and monitor the quality of the affected environment.

TechnoServe will use its business-building expertise to ensure that the centers can generate enough revenues from their services to be self-supporting, adds Bravo-Ureta. The company will also recruit and train the staff of the centers to ensure that farmers benefit from the new services and adopt sustainable, growth-oriented farming practices.

"Within five years, we hope that some 15,000 Salvadoran farmers will have access to new farming technologies, market information, and business planning services through the centers," says Bravo-Ureta. "Making peasant farmers profitable is the key to economic development in many emerging economies."

David Bauman